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Township aims to better address concerns related to alcohol-serving establishments

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 16, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — As beer kegs continue to get tapped and liquor continues to be distilled, establishments that produce and serve alcohol are being welcomed to Clinton Township with open arms.

The only provisions revolve around the details of such establishments and whether they follow a certain set of guidelines, or a process, that will ultimately be the new standard among similar business ventures.

A unanimous decision by the Clinton Township Board of Trustees to continue to look into a unified process of how to handle different alcohol establishments came on the heels of the board approving permits for Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., and the building of an operation for Blind Pig Distilling Co.

A proposed 90-day moratorium, which was rejected, involved proposed revisions through the township’s planning department, constituted within a zoning ordinance and special land use standards. Once approved by the board within a 90-pay period, such amendments would have affected future brew pubs, breweries, distilleries and wine tasting rooms.

 Township Attorney Jack Dolan said the moratorium would have been an opportunity to address potential issues in regard to parking, screening in relation to residential uses, and outdoor entertainment aspects. The township currently has industrial and commercial zoning ordinances, but there is nothing that addresses any issues that may fall between such characterizations.

“Both these uses carry a component which is industrial in nature, and a component which is commercial in nature, like an ordinary restaurant or tavern,” Dolan said.

Planning Department Director Carlo Santia, however, said that his department already looks at such things.

“It’s similar to a lot of the things we look at when we approve other liquor establishments — a bar, for example,” Santia said. “This also has a manufacturing component, so we look at other things, such as smell from the process. Beer produces some odor that may go into the neighborhood, things of that nature.”

Trustee Paul Gieleghem initially expressed hesitance that the moratorium was on the agenda in the first place, especially after the board approved both agenda items pertaining to Kuhnhenn and Blind Pig earlier in the meeting.

He said he didn’t mind an ordinance pertaining to such establishments, but thought that it should have been addressed prior to the approval of related agenda items.

“I can appreciate and respect where Mr. (Bill) Sowerby is coming from because he made it very clear that he didn’t like the process that just unfolded with Kuhnhenn and the Blind Pig,” Gieleghem said. “And (Sowerby) voted ‘no’ in approving that. We could otherwise refer to this as the ‘Kuhnhenn-Blind Pig noncompete clause for 90 days.’

“I just think it would be very disingenuous of me to approve the Kuhnhenn brewery and Blind Pig distillery, and then vote to impose a moratorium on anybody else moving forward.”

Sowerby responded by saying the moratorium was designed to grapple with the process of future tasting rooms and distilleries, to better handle organizations and ultimately create a better process so everyone is included.

“Let’s be real clear here: This is not the Bill Sowerby moratorium,” Sowerby, the treasurer, said. “This was discussed, in a room with Ms. (Kim) Meltzer, in a room with Mr. (Dean) Reynolds, with the other (Budget, Ways and Means) committee members and Mr. Dolan. This came up because of the concern that Ms. Meltzer (and the committee) had about the process coming forward with the Blind Pig.”

He added that it’s not about being exclusive to one entity or another, mentioning how Kuhnhenn, for example, began its process long before Blind Pig.

“I just think we have to come up with a good process. Let’s not have organized disorder on M-97, or wherever,” Sowerby said. “Let’s have an organized plan and a process so we can welcome these businesses and we don’t have confusion before us because we don’t have a reasonable process in place.”

Supervisor Bob Cannon echoed Gieleghem’s sentiment, though from another angle. He said businesses that move into vacant buildings — notably on Groesbeck Highway — are improving the area and are a necessity to the area. Marketing is important, he said.

“I mentioned earlier in the evening that I was at (a) Detroit brewery last weekend,” Cannon said. “Not only was (that) brewery there, but there were breweries all around there. It seemed like it was a magnet. I would not send a message that Clinton Township doesn’t want more microbreweries if there are others out there looking for a location, especially on Groesbeck Highway.”

Clerk Kim Meltzer recalled how the board never established another ordinance around the time changes were made to liquor licensing within the township. She said she wouldn’t vote for a moratorium.

“I don’t think we have to establish a moratorium in order to get organized or create an ordinance or to create a process,” Meltzer said. “There have been no requests as of (Nov. 30) for an approval of a microbrewery or a small distiller or anything like that.”